Official congratulations from the British government on Obama’s reelection received sustained applause in Parliament on Wednesday, with much of the enthusiasm emanating from benches packed with lawmakers from the ruling Conservative Party.
That’s partly because Obama remains an admired figure in Europe, but also because British Prime Minister David Cameron has forged a warm relationship with the Democratic president. Before election day, the media here reported that Cameron, 46, was privately rooting for Obama, with whom he shares a generational rapport.
That affinity exists despite some philosophical and political gulfs between the two men. For example, Cameron’s coalition government has imposed massive public-spending cuts that would make even American tea party activists envious. (Perhaps it’s all that tea they drink in Britain.)
“Congratulations to Barack,” Cameron said, dropping the first name of the world’s most powerful person with a casualness practically unimaginable from any other world leader. “I’ve enjoyed working with him. I think he’s a very successful U.S. president, and I look forward to working with him in the future.”
Cameron added that “one of the first things I want to talk to Barack about” is the crisis in Syria.
In some ways, the connection between the two men is not as unlikely as it might seem at first glance.
Cameron’s Conservatives aren’t simply a British analog of the Republican Party and therefore naturally predisposed against Obama. Indeed, in a move unthinkable for the GOP, the prime minister has pledged to introduce a bill in Parliament to legalize same-sex marriage, declaring: “I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative; I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”
Although he advocates some controversial changes, Cameron also describes himself as an ardent champion of the National Health Service, Britain’s public healthcare system. Last year, he loudly disavowed any intention of bringing an “American-style” system to these shores.
And the relationship between Cameron and defeated Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney bordered on frosty when the former Massachusetts governor visited Britain over the summer. Romney, who headed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, cast doubt on London’s ability to mount a successful Summer Games, leading Cameron to retort that it was far easier to put on an Olympics in “the middle of nowhere.”
In any case, there’s recent precedent for close ties between American and British leaders across an ostensible political divide. The previous decade was dominated by the transatlantic double act of Republican President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair of the Labor Party.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron at a college basketball game in Ohio in March. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press